8 Best Degrees to Start your IT Career
If you're pursuing a career in information technology, there are plenty of entry points. One entry vector is obtaining a college degree, and most employers wanting to fill entry-level IT jobs aren't too picky about which degree you hold, as long as you have one.
Every single job posting we looked at provided a list of required and preferred technical skills, including vendor-specific experience, math and reasoning, and hardware knowledge. Most often, companies are looking for someone with a degree in a "related technical field" to information technology.
Whether you attend a two- or four-year institution, you will certainly find that your degree opens doors. Now, it's just the question of which degree will provide the best or most opportunities.
Based on the requirements for jobs postings from popular career websites, we determined the top 8 degrees for your first job in IT.
On a side note: We recognize there's plenty of debate about whether or not degrees are worth the time and money, even among our trainers. (We cover that elsewhere.)
Here are a few obvious, general degrees:
Information Systems (or Technology). These are the single, most obvious degrees that will help start your IT career. With the name of the career field right in the degree name, that's straight-forward enough.
With this degree, you'll learn how to use extant technologies to solve business problems. The skills you learn will vary greatly from program to program, but mostly you'll learn the basics of hardware, software, infrastructure, operating systems, and troubleshooting. You'll also learn the theory behind networking and computing, which actually comes in handy more often than you might think.
Most programs have practice labs and require hands-on experience as part of their curriculums, or they should at least. Practical experience will ground your book learning, and put you on a good trajectory for the very practical nature of the career field.
The harder question: How do you decide to pursue a degree in information technology?
It depends on your interests. Anecdotally, our trainers said in this interview that knew they loved technology and tinkered extensively as teenagers and young adults. They were naturally curious about computers and how they interacted. If that's you, then that just might make your degree (and career) choices pretty easy.
Computer Science. To those who are unfamiliar with the two, computer science and information technology degrees are not the same. They both exist in the same universe, but they are distinctly different.
While IT students will learn some coding, computer science students will go deep into the theory behind programming and, yes, maybe even learn a language along the way, but shockingly that's not a guarantee.
An associate or bachelor degree will largely provide you a generalized curriculum of programming languages, data architecture, and the fundamentals of computing. It'll be up to you how to specialize, but no matter which path you take you could land in IT. With a CompSci degree, you'll already know how all component parts interact.
Software engineering. Similar to the rationale for a computer science degree, software engineers increasingly have a foot in hardware as well as software. With the rise of DevOps, you'll find plenty of opportunities to augment your degree with the 30,000-foot view of software engineering and the nuts and bolts.
Here are a few highly specific degrees:
Information assurance and security. Security degrees come in many different packages. From "global security" to blandly named "IT security" degrees, they're all going to lead to the fundamentals of networking, hardware, software, and theory, similar to what you'd find in the CompTIA Network+ certification.
IT security regularly is named one of the hottest jobs in technology, and rightfully so. With more services operating online and the increasing threat of hackers, you should seriously consider making a career in security. While your degree will get your foot in the door don't forget about the security certifications that will further validate your skills.
Business analytics. Even with a statistics- and programming-heavy business analytics program, you can carve a fine niche in IT. In fact, there are plenty of companies looking for analyst positions that seem a lot more like IT analyst roles.
You'll learn how to store, access, and analyze data, manage the storage, virtualize storage, and query. If you want to head in this hybrid direction, then work on database infrastructure, queries, and visualization. Those are the big trends right now.
Less obvious, but no less useful, degrees:
Math and statistics. As with the computer science or physics degrees, this degree has many applications outside the periphery of its description. If you're a math or stats major, then you can handle logic, which means that you're an ideal candidate to logically operate a network (with the right experience). Most programs require either an upper-level math course with them, which is great because many job postings specifically request higher-level math skills.
Business with an IT minor. With a degree in business (and an IT-focused minor), you are uniquely positioned to be the go-between for business operations and network operations. That's a great place to be. It means that you know the system capabilities, while also being close to the bottom line.
Any degree with experience. You don't necessarily need a related degree in information technology or computer-related sciences to get your first job. If you have interest and some relevant experience in information technology, any degree, whether physics, biology, or agriculture, serves as a baseline for an IT career.
You just need to pass the interview and prove that you can do the job. Granted, you need to get the interview first, but you can easily clear up that confusion with relevant certifications, volunteer experience, or even a description of your home lab in your cover letter.
There's no single right way to start your IT career. Whether you begin with a college degree, certification, or experience alone, there are many paths that can lead you into a successful career in IT.